The Abomination of Desolation

Mark-13
Contents

The Abomination of Desolation
Sunday, April 7th, 2024
Christ Covenant Church – Centralia, WA

Mark 13:14-23

14 But when ye shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing where it ought not, (let him that readeth understand,) then let them that be in Judaea flee to the mountains: 15 And let him that is on the housetop not go down into the house, neither enter therein, to take any thing out of his house: 16 And let him that is in the field not turn back again for to take up his garment. 17 But woe to them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days! 18 And pray ye that your flight be not in the winter. 19 For in those days shall be affliction, such as was not from the beginning of the creation which God created unto this time, neither shall be. 20 And except that the Lord had shortened those days, no flesh should be saved: but for the elect’s sake, whom he hath chosen, he hath shortened the days. 21 And then if any man shall say to you, Lo, here is Christ; or, lo, he is there; believe him not: 22 For false Christs and false prophets shall rise, and shall shew signs and wonders, to seduce, if it were possible, even the elect. 23 But take ye heed: behold, I have foretold you all things.

Prayer

Father, we thank you for these words from the Lord Jesus and how you used them in the 1st century to preserve the church through The Great Tribulation. We thank you also for how you continue to use these words to inspire and encourage us amidst our afflictions. Make us now to cling to your Word, for you alone have the words of Eternal Life. We ask in this Jesus’ name, Amen.

Introduction

Well, we are back in Mark 13, and this morning we come to an exceedingly difficult question that the church has yet to come to any consensus answer for, which is, What is the abomination of desolation? And while we will spend the majority of our time trying to answer that question, we must not forget or lose sight of the larger purpose for Jesus teaching these things, which is, to prepare the disciples to die as martyrs for His Name.

  • The twelve apostles are going to be commissioned, empowered, and sent to the four corners of the earth to proclaim the gospel of the kingdom, and while that gospel will indeed conquer and be victorious, it will not be without bloodshed. So just as Christ conquered by suffering and dying on the cross, so also the apostles and early church shall conquer by suffering and being faithful even unto death.
  • So this is the very practical purpose for Jesus telling the disciples what shall take place within one generation. And we know that these events were all fulfilled in the 1st century because after describing these events Jesus says in verse 30, “Verily I say unto you, that this generation shall not pass, till all these things be done.”
  • So all of Mark 13 refers to events that took place in the 1st century, within one generation. Recall that starting in verse 5 is Jesus’ response to the disciples’ question in verse 4 which is, “Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign when all these things shall be fulfilled?”
    • And what are the “these things” they are referring to? They are referring to Jesus’ declaration that “there shall not be left one stone upon another [in the temple], that shall not be thrown down” (vs. 2).
    • So the “end” (vs. 7) that is spoken of here, is not the end of our world, it is the end of the temple which was itself a symbol of the whole cosmos. So when the Jerusalem temple is destroyed and replaced by Jesus Christ, the true temple and the saints in Him, it can rightly be described as the end of the old world and the beginning of a new creation. It is rightly spoken of as the end of the age and the beginning of a new heavens and new earth in which righteousness dwells.
  • This end is also what Daniel is shown in his visions where there is a series of world empires that starts with Babylon, then Persia, then Greece, and then Rome, and it is during the reign of this fourth empire, this fourth beast, that the kingdom of God is said to come. And how does it come? It comes like a stone cut without human hands. It comes like an altar descending from heaven that grows into a mountain that fills the whole earth. It comes like the Son of Man up to the Ancient of Days. And as it says in Daniel 7:17-18 “These great beasts, which are four, are four kings, which shall arise out of the earth. But the saints of the most High shall take the kingdom, and possess the kingdom for ever, even for ever and ever.”
  • So for the saints, judgment day is a day of victory. It is a day of joy, and triumph, and vindication. And so Jesus describes for the disciples in this chapter what shall precede this judgment and the arrival of his kingdom. So let me give you a brief review of the basic chronology and order of events that Jesus describes leading up to our passage.
    • In verses 1-8, Jesusdescribes what will take place from roughly 30 AD-62 AD. There will be deceivers, wars and rumors of wars, earthquakes, famines, and troubles. But these he says are just “the beginnings of sorrows” (vs. 8).
    • In verses 9-13, Jesus describes how during that same time period, the gospel will be preached to all nations, they will stand before kings and councils, and “be hated by all for My name’s sake.” And it is here that Jesus begins to describe what conditions will be like leading up to and through The Great Tribulation: Lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold, and even the natural bonds of love will be broken. Brother will betray brother, children will rise up against their parents and put them to death, and so forth.
    • And this brings us to our text, verses 13-23, where Jesus speaks explicitly of a “tribulation/affliction, such as was not from the beginning of the creation which God created unto this time, neither shall be.” And I take that as referring to roughly the years 62/64-68 AD. During that great tribulation, a number of the apostles died. Tradition holds that Paul was killed in Rome between 64-67 AD. And likewise the Apostle Peter.
      • Jesus also warns that during this time there will be false christs and false prophets who do signs and wonder to deceive those in the church, and therefore Jesus says, “But take ye heed: behold, I have foretold you all things.”
    • So notice, the function of this prophecy of Jerusalem’s destruction is to build our faith, and give us hope, and to keep us from falling away. The constant exhortation Jesus gives to his followers is “keep watch,” “watch out,” “take heed to yourselves,” “watch and pray,” “stay awake.” Because “a little slumber, a little sleep, a little folding of the hands to rest, and spiritual poverty shall come upon you like an armed man” (Pr. 6:10-11).
    • Jesus wants his disciples to endure and persevere through the greatest tribulation there ever was or shall be, and that is why he gives them these words in Mark 13. And you and I, by imitating the faith of these apostles, we too can learn to endure the much smaller tribulations we face. That is the practical purpose of this passage.
  • So with that by way of review and introduction, let us turn now to this question, “What is the abomination of desolation?” Let me read again verse 14 for us.

Verse 14 – What is the Abomination of Desolation?

14 But when ye shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing where it ought not, (let him that readeth understand,) then let them that be in Judaea flee to the mountains…

  • Notice first of all what is contained in the parentheses, “let him that readeth understand.” Matthew’s version has basically the same parenthetical statement, “whoever reads, let him understand” (Matt. 24:15).
  • This is almost certainly something that Mark and Matthew added to their gospels as a kind of footnote for the person reading this gospel in the public assembly of the church. It is also a call back to the book of Daniel which says, “Many shall be purified, and made white, and tried; but the wicked shall do wickedly: and none of the wicked shall understand; but the wise shall understand.” That is Daniel 12:10, and then in the very next verse Daniel 12:11 it speaks about the abomination of desolation. “And from the time that the daily sacrifice shall be taken away, and the abomination that maketh desolate set up, there shall be a thousand two hundred and ninety days. 12 Blessed is he that waiteth, and cometh to the thousand three hundred and five and thirty days.” And then after one more verse, the book of Daniel ends.
  • So both Matthew and Mark alert the reader of their gospels to understand what Jesus is talking about, with the implication being that they (like Daniel) are then to explain what the abomination of desolation is to those who do not understand. A few verses earlier in Daniel 12:3 it says, “And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever.”
  • So God gives wisdom to his prophets, apostles, and teachers in the church so they can be like shining stars to guide those who are in the dark towards righteousness. Wisdom is not just secret knowledge that someone acquires to keep for themselves, wisdom is a gift of the Holy Spirit that is for the edification and building up of the whole church. And so in this parenthetical statement, “let him that readeth understand,” is an exhortation aimed particularly at 1st century readers/teachers (and by extension to pastors like myself) who must do the hard work of trying to understand what this abomination of desolation is referring to.
  • So what I want to do in our remaining time is take you on the journey of discovery that you must go on if you would understand these things. Because this is a place where Proverbs 25:2 is apt, “It is the glory of God to conceal a thing: But the honour of kings is to search out a matter.”
    • God has purposely given us puzzles in His Word, because He wants us to do the hard spiritual and intellectual work of comparing Scripture with Scripture. Because it is in the very process of reading and studying and meditating and praying for divine light that God changes us into men and women of the Word. It is how God grows us into the honour of kings.

The words “Abomination of Desolation”

So let us begin with a consideration of the words themselves, what is an abomination of desolation?

  • The first clue Jesus gives us is that this is “the abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel the prophet.”There are three places where the abomination of desolation is referred to in the book of Daniel: Daniel 9:27, Daniel 11:31, and Daniel 12:11.
  • I should note here In the Hebrew Old Testament there are two different words that are often translated as abomination.
    • The first is תּוֹעֵבָה (toevah), which refers to actions or customs that are either generally immoral or that would violate the ceremonial laws of Israel. Examples of this kind of abomination תּוֹעֵבָה would be things like homosexuality, bestiality, necromancy, adultery, etc. These are abominations that both Jews and Gentiles could commit.
    • The second kind of abomination is the one that Daniel speaks of and comes from a different Hebrew word which is שִׁקֻּץ (shiqqutz). And if you look at the 28 instances of this Hebrew word in the OT, you will see that it overwhelmingly refers to some kind of idol or idolatry that God’s people commit. And for this reason, many scholars choose to translate abomination as sacrilege. It is an action of apostasy/idolatry by the priestly nation, and the high priest in particular to worship a false god (an idol of the nations) instead of the true God of the covenant.
  • Now if you know anything about Daniel 9, Daniel 11, and Daniel 12, you will know that these are some of the most difficult chapters in the whole Bible to interpret. And so we don’t have time to examine and explain each of these texts, they would each need their own sermon or series of sermons, but let us just hear these 3 passages and say a word about each to get them fresh in our mind.
    • Daniel 9:26–27 says, “And after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for himself: and the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary; and the end thereof shall be with a flood, and unto the end of the war desolations are determined. 27And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and for the overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate, even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate.”
      • So this is a prophesy that during the middle of the 70th week, the daily sacrifice and tribute will be stopped in the temple, and there will be abominations (plural) that cause and bring about the desolation to the temple. So notice the order is abomination first, then desolation. Sacrilege/idolatry first, and then because of this God forsakes and desolates his house.
    • Daniel 11:31-33 says, “And arms shall stand on his part, and they shall pollute the sanctuary of strength, and shall take away the daily sacrifice, and they shall place the abomination that maketh desolate. 32And such as do wickedly against the covenant shall he corrupt by flatteries: but the people that do know their God shall be strong, and do exploits. 33And they that understand among the people shall instruct many: yet they shall fall by the sword, and by flame, by captivity, and by spoil, many days.”
      • Notice here that again the abomination that maketh desolate is connected with the taking away of the daily sacrifice. There is an exchange of true worship for false worship. Notice also there is a promise that those who understand shall instruct many, but there will be a tribulation that follows in which they die by sword and flame, etc.
      • This instance in Daniel 11 refers to events that took place around 171 BC and are recorded in the Jewish history of 2 Maccabees. During that time there was division in Jerusalem over adopting Greek customs and at one point the Hellenizing Jews conspired to buy the high-priesthood and succeeded. They slandered and deposed the lawful Zadokite High Priest, Onnias III, and his brother Jason replaced him. Three years later, a man named Menelaus (who was not a Zadokite at all), went to Antiochus Epiphanes and bought the high priesthood for himself, and from that time onward, there was no Zadokite high priest in Israel again.
      • 2 Maccabees 4:13-14 says, “Now such was the height of Greek fashions, and increase of heathenish manners, through the exceeding profaneness of Jason, that ungodly wretch, and no high priest; 14 That the priests had no courage to serve any more at the altar, but despising the temple, and neglecting the sacrifices, hastened to be partakers of the unlawful allowance in the place of exercise.”
      • So this is the abomination of desolation that Daniel 11 describes. The priests themselves apostatize and commit sacrilege by deposing and eventually murdering the true high priest, and then they neglect the sacrificial offerings that God commands. And then after these abominations have been committed, God desolates his house, usually by sending a foreign army to invade and plunder it.
        • We see this same pattern earlier in Israel’s history when Eli’s two sons Hophni and Phineas commit sacrilege, they steal God’s food from the altar and rob God’s people, and they fornicate with women at the tabernacle. And because Eli does not stop them, God desolates his house and allows the ark of the covenant to be taken and captured by the Philistines.
        • Likewise in Ezekiel, we see the priests in the temple bowing down to idols, worshipping the sun, and other abominations, and it is this priestly sacrilege that causes God’s glory to depart from the house, and then he sends Babylon in to desolate it.
        • So the consistent pattern throughout biblical history is that the priests commit the abomination (idolatry/apostasy/sacrilege), and then God desolates his house using some Gentile army as his instrument of punishment. And we could go further and note that after He uses the Gentile power to judge his people, he then punishes that Gentile power for their sins as well.
        • This was the pattern for the first destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, and it is exactly what God does a second time as Jesus foretells.
      • The third instance of the abomination of desolation is Daniel 12:11, and this is the same abomination of desolation that Jesus is calling his disciples attention to. So if you can interpret Daniel 12 correctly you can interpret Mark 13:14 correctly. But as I said, Daniel 12 is a hard chapter.
    • Daniel 12:11 says, “From the time that the daily sacrifice shall be taken away, and the abomination that maketh desolate set up, there shall be a thousand two hundred and ninety days.

Seven Criteria

So let’s summarize what we have learned thus far from Daniel’s abomination of desolation.

  • 1. We know that this kind of abomination is an act of idolatry/sacrilege that only priests can commit.
  • 2. We know that it is the kind of high-handed sin that would cause God to forsake and desolate his house like he has done in times past.
  • 3. We know that it is somehow connected to the stopping of the daily sacrifice and tribute at the temple.
  • 4. We know that when these abominations are committed, there is some kind of tribulation for those who are faithful.

Now if we look back at our text of Mark 13, we can also add three other criteria to our list.

  • 5. Whatever the abomination of desolation is, it must be according to Jesus, “standing where it ought not.” Or as Matthew’s version has it, “standing in the holy place/area (τόπος).” This means it must be somewhere in Jerusalem, the holy city, with the temple being the most obvious location.
  • 6. The abomination of desolation must also be a public action or event because it is something people can see. It is one of the signs (Mark 13:4) that the destruction of Jerusalem is near.
  • 7. In terms of timing, this public sign must take place 1) during the great tribulation (vs 19),but also 2) prior to the worst of the Jewish-Roman war when leaving the city would be very difficult. So between 62-68 AD (depending on when you think the great tribulation took place).

Now with those seven criteria in front of us, we can now use them to weigh and sort the different historical options in front of us.

  • One of the more common interpretations is that the abomination of desolation refers to the Romans entering the temple, and offering pagan sacrifices to their false gods.
    • However, there are at least two reasons why this cannot be. First, as we said earlier, only priests can commit the abomination part, and second, the timing doesn’t work. It would make no sense to tell Christians to flee to the mountains after Jerusalem has already been conquered. So we can rule this option out.
  • Another interpretation is that the abomination of desolation refers to an event that took place in the winter of AD 67-68, when as Josephus records, Jewish Zealots took over the temple, “entering the Holy Place with defiled feet” and appointed their own high priest. The previous high priest, Ananus, said afterward, “Certainly, it had been good for me to die before I had seen the house of God full of so many abominations, or these sacred places that ought not to be trodden upon at random, filled with feet of these blood-shedding villains.”
    • Does this historical event fit our seven criteria?
    • Well, this certainly fits the desolation part, but again, these were not priests who were profaning the temple, it was other Jews (lawless Zealots) deposing the current high priest. Also, the timing is a bit late for this to be the sign to flee to the mountains. You would have wanted to be long gone from Jerusalem by this time. So I think we can rule this option out.
  • So let me propose for you three historical events that I think can mostly fit these seven criteria and are all possible candidates for being the abomination of desolation. And I should note that part of the difficulty is that we have limited historical records of what happened during these years, in large part because it was the great tribulation was happening. So here are the three best options I have found.

Proposal 1 – The Abomination of Desolation refers to the ending of sacrifices in the temple for any foreigners in 66 AD.

  • This took place in AD 66, and Josephus himself says this was the true beginning of their war with the Romans.
    • “And at this time it was that some of those that principally excited the people to go to war, made an assault upon a certain fortress called Masada. They took it by treachery and slew the Romans that were there, and put others of their own party to keep it. At the same time Eleazar, the sons of Ananias the high priest, a very bold youth, who was at that time governor of the temple, persuaded those that officiated in the divine service to receive no gift or sacrifice for any foreigner. And this was the true beginning of our war with the Romans; for they rejected the sacrifice of Caesar on this account; and when many of the high priests and principal men besought them not to omit the sacrifice which it was customary for them to offer for their princes, they would not prevailed upon. These relied much upon their multitude, for the most flourishing part of the innovators assisted them, but they had the chief regard to Eleazar, the governor of the temple.” (Wars of the Jews, Book II.17.2)
    • The timing fits, being during the great tribulation, which some place as going from 62-66 AD, others 64-68 AD, and others 62-68 AD. So whichever timeline you hold to, 66 AD is a decent candidate for when someone would want to flee to the mountains and get out of Judea, because it’s just prior to the Jewish-Roman war.
    • It also fits with the timing of the sacrifices being stopped, and although they did not completely stop for the Jews, we might call this a great abomination in that they were doing exactly opposite of what God commanded in the law, and what Jesus had just rebuked them for when he said, “my house is to be a house of prayer for all nations.”
    • This was a public action, it was priestly action, and it happened in the holy place.
    • So that’s one pretty good option.

Proposal 2 – The Abomination of Desolation is the completion of the temple and persecution of Christians in 64 AD.

  • For many years Herod had been building and decorating the temple, and in 64 AD, the same year that Nero blamed the fire in Rome on the Christians and began to persecute them, the temple was finally complete.
  • The timing seems to fit, and some mark this as the beginning of the great tribulation. The completion of the temple was a public event that everyone would know about, and in this sense, the temple itself is the abomination in that it embodies and represents the idolatry of the priests and their rejection of Jesus Christ as the new temple.
  • One difficulty is that in order to make this fit with the ending of sacrifice that Daniel foretells, you would have to spiritualize it and say something like, God no longer accepted their daily offerings because of their idolatry and in that sense the daily sacrifice was taken away. That is not an illegitimate move to make, but it is less likely I think.

Proposal 3 – The Abomination of Desolation refers to the martyrdom of James the Just in 62 AD.

  • James the Just was the brother of Jesus, and Eusebius records that to him “the bishop’s throne in Jerusalem had been assigned by the apostles.” Eusebius goes on to say that he lived as a Nazarite. He was “consecrated from his mother’s womb. He drank no wine or liquor and ate no meat. No razor came near his head, he did not anoint himself with oil, and took no baths. He alone was permitted to enter the sanctum, for he wore not wool but linen. He used to enter the temple alone and was often found kneeling and imploring forgiveness for the people, so that his knees became hard like a camel’s from his continual kneeling in worship of God and in prayer for the people.”
    • So James the Just has a priest-like status in the temple. The priest’s garment were linen, and it says James wore linen. He alone was permitted to enter the sanctum. If this refers to the holy place, then James was likely an ordained priest of the Jews.
    • At the same time, because James is a Christian and the bishop of Jerusalem, he is in a very real sense, a more true priest than anyone else. He is a true priest of God in the true temple of God (the church) in the true and heavenly Jerusalem.
    • And therefore, when the scribes and Pharisees murdered him, publicly, at Passover, in the temple, they were committing the worst kind of abomination: human sacrifice of God’s new temple.
      • Paul says in 1 Corinthians 3:17, “If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.”
    • So in this sense, every time the Jews murdered a Christian, they were committing an abomination that would bring about their desolation. They were fulfilled what Jesus foretold in John 16:2, “the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service (λατρεία).”
    • And when they put James the Just to death, they were actually cutting off the true daily sacrifice, which is the prayers of the saints, the prayers of this bishop, who offered those prayers in the holy place.
    • Furthermore, it is this murder of the saints that Jesus cites in Matthew 23 as the cause for Jerusalem’s desolation, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!Behold, your house is left unto you desolate.”
  • For this reason, I think the martyrdom of James the Just is one of the best candidates for being the abomination that brings about Jerusalem’s desolation.
  • And so I will close by reading from Eusebius the full description of his martyrdom:
  • “Now, since many even of the rulers believed, there was a tumult of the Jews and the Scribes and Pharisees saying that the whole people was in danger of looking for Jesus as the Christ. So they assembled and said to James, ‘We beseech you to restrain the people since they are straying after Jesus as though he were the Messiah. We beseech you to persuade concerning Jesus all who come for the day of the Passover, for all obey you. For we and the whole people testify to you that you are righteous and do not respect persons. So do you persuade the crowd not to err concerning Jesus, for the whole people and we all obey you. [11] Therefore stand on the battlement of the temple that you may be clearly visible on high, and that your words may be audible to all the people, for because of the Passover all the tribes, with the Gentiles also, have come together.’ [12] So the Scribes and Pharisees mentioned before made James stand on the battlement of the temple, and they cried out to him and said, ‘Oh, just one, to whom we all owe obedience, since the people are straying after Jesus who was crucified, tell us what is the gate of Jesus?1’ [13] And he answered with a loud voice, ‘Why do you ask me concerning the Son of Man? He is sitting in heaven on the right hand of the great power, and he will come on the clouds of heaven.’ [14] And many were convinced and confessed at the testimony of James and said, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David.’ Then again the same Scribes and Pharisees said to one another, ‘We did wrong to provide Jesus with such testimony, but let us go up and throw him down that they may be afraid and not believe him.’ [15] And they cried out saying, ‘Oh, oh, even the just one erred.’ And they fulfilled the Scripture written in Isaiah, ‘Let us take the just man for he is unprofitable to us. Yet they shall eat the fruit of their works.’ [16] So they went up and threw down the Just, and they said to one another, ‘Let us stone James the Just,’ and they began to stone him since the fall had not killed him, but he turned and knelt saying, ‘I beseech thee, O Lord, God and Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’ [17] And while they were thus stoning him one of the priests of the sons of Rechab, the son of Rechabim, to whom Jeremiah the prophet bore witness, cried out saying, ‘Stop! what are you doing? The Just is praying for you.’ And a certain man among them, one of the laundrymen, took the club with which he used to beat out the clothes, and hit the Just on the head, and so he suffered martyrdom. [18] And they buried him on the spot by the temple, and his gravestone still remains by the temple. He became a true witness both to Jews and to Greeks that Jesus is the Christ, and at once Vespasian began to besiege them.” (Eus., Hist. eccl. 2.23.10–18)
  • May God give us faith such as this, they we too might bear witness to the glorious and saving gospel of Jesus Christ. In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost, Amen.
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